Native to South Africa, Dichrostachys cinerea, naturally occurs in the central and northern parts of our country. Locally known as the ‘Kalahari Christmas tree’, this tree is easily identified by its unusual flowers and pods. The name ‘Sickle bush’ is derived from the curved shape of the pods.
The tree grows to a height of between 5 and 6 m and has an untidy, straggly appearance. The bark on young trees is green and on older trees become dark-grey brown with a longitudinally fissured texture. The branches have strong, alternate lateral shoots, appearing as thorns that may have leaves as the base.
This deciduous shrub or small tree has soft, leathery foliage that is reminiscent of the Acacia species. Flowering takes place from September to February and the flowers are lilac in the upper half and yellow in the lower. The flowers are fragrant and unique in appearance, resembling small lanterns on the tree. After flowering, coiled green pods form from each flower and mature to dark-brown before falling to the ground where it is browsed by various animals. The pods contain small, glossy seeds that are distributed by wind and water.
In its younger stage, the Sickle bush can grow into very dense and impenetrable thickets in the veld. Due to its ‘thorny’ nature, it can form a highly effective barrier, but it should be maintained so as not to become a nuisance. It is a fast grower, but will require regular trimming to keep it neat. The tree is hardy and can tolerate dry conditions. When young, it does need protection from frost to thrive, but becomes tolerant of moderate frost when mature.
Dichrostachys cinerea is not suitable for small gardens as the root system is fairly aggressive and has prolific root suckers. The tree can be utilised as a living fence and are known to grow well in poor and even saline soils. In addition, it has soil binding and conservation properties.